FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There are a lot of questions surrounding where the Patriots are headed after a rare early exit from the playoffs.
Will 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, a free agent, return for a 21st season? Will offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leave to become a head coach? Will key free agents be retained?
Those questions will all be answered long before the Patriots report for training camp in July, but Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after they were eliminated by the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans, 20-13, was not the time it was going to happen.
Coach Bill Belichick was not entertaining any inquiries about the future of the franchise that has won six Super Bowl championships since the 2001 season but is now seemingly headed in a different direction.
The Patriots finished the season in an un-Patriots-like way, losing back-to-back home games for the first time since 2008. They couldn’t wrap up the No. 2 seed when the lowly Miami Dolphins stunned the Patriots a week ago Sunday, then were stopped without a postseason win for the first time since the 2010 season.
So when Belichick met with the media shortly after 10:30 a.m. the day after the season finale, he received questions about the future, particularly that of Brady, who said it is “unlikely” he will retire.
“We’re less than 12 hours here from the end of the game,” said Belichick during the 15-minute press conference, his final one of the season. “I’m sure there are a lot of questions about the future. Nobody’s thought about the future. Everybody’s been focused and working on Miami and Tennessee and that’s where all the focus should have been.
“Whatever’s in the future, we’ll deal with at some later point in time. We’re certainly not going to deal with it now.”
Everyone is wondering what will happen with Brady, whether he’ll be back with the Patriots or, shockingly, move on to another situation when free agency opens on March 18.
That topic as well as others about the offseason ahead were put off for another day by Belichick.
“I know it’s out there, just like there’s a lot of other things out there,” said Belichick, who called Brady an “iconic” figure in the organization. “We could bring up 50 questions just like that one. You can ask all 50 of them and it’s going to be the same answer 50 times.
“We’ve been working on Tennessee. It’s 12 hours after the game. I’m not going to talk about things in the future because I’m not prepared to talk about it. You could name 50 guys, 50 coaches, you could talk about anything you want about the future.
“They are all questions that need to be answered at some point in time by the organization, by myself, by the coaching staff, by some of the players. But those are collective decisions that are not made by one person. They’re made collectively and there’s a lot of time and thought and effort and communication that goes into that. Now’s not the time.”
Now is the time for the Patriots to reflect on what went wrong in a season that began with eight straight wins and ended with five losses in nine games.
The Patriots’ weaknesses were exposed down the stretch, and the offense was unable to produce the way it had in the past.
Brady was left without key players, beginning at the tight end spot when Rob Gronkowski retired. There was no adequate replacement for him from start to finish.
The offensive line took a hit when Trent Brown left via free agency and center David Andrews missed the season with blood clots. The running game was inconsistent, and Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon didn’t last long at wide receiver.
“There are times in all three phases of the game where things were good, other times when they were average and other times when they weren’t so good,” said Belichick. “There are a lot of things that we’d like to improve on.”
In addition to Brady, the Patriots have free agents in Joe Thuney, Devin McCourty, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Nate Ebner, Ted Karras, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, among others.
The atmosphere at Gillette Stadium Saturday night was strange as the Patriots, looking to defend the Super Bowl title, went out in a hurry.
“It’s like a crash landing, man,” said McCourty. “You’ve got all your hopes. We’ve had this feeling before and this feeling is no different. We’ve had guys that have been here (a long time). As you have a core group of guys now 30-plus (years old), there are always question marks.
“Are we going to be as good? Are we going to retire? All of those questions continuously come up and I think it’s important to just take some time away just like I know all the Patriots will do the same thing.”
McDaniels could have a head coaching job soon and free agency starts in just over 10 weeks, so answers will be coming soon.
“All the future questions are the future,” said Belichick.
“We’re less than 12 hours after a game. I think anybody’s that is competitive and has been in this type of situation, all your focus is on the game. It’s not on something else.
“Hopefully you can respect that, but if you can’t, I’ve done the best I can to explain it. I’m sorry. It’s as simple as that.”